Casco Viejo World Heritage tag threatened

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THE FUTURE of Casco Viejo as a designated World Heritage site could again be falling through cracks warns the body that awards the much-valued designation.

Lack of planning means that   conservation  proposals and initiatives both  public and private in Panama’s old city are not having any noticeable effects on the site, said a committee report to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its 41st session in Krakow, Poland, last week

The committee expressed its “grave concern” that  despite the projects and investments, most of the factors that affect the value of the site have achieved little.

The last major proposal to improve the historical image of Panama Viejo and San Felipe

cost the State $168.6 million, and ended up being a project questioned by entrepreneurs and

residents of the Old Town, due to deficiencies in the pavement and the installation of the electrical system, among other elements of the work.

The improvements were tendered by the previous government in 2010 and awarded to the

Construction company Odebrecht, which is involved in international bribery scandals and that built the sea viaduct encircling Casco which, according to Unesco, had a “negative” impact on the universal value of the relationship of the Old Town with the sea.

Now the technical experts of the body have asked Panama to take the measures necessary to maintain the “authenticity” and “integrity” of the historical components of the site.

One of these measures is to present to the Unesco World Heritage Center the designs Of the restoration project of the Hotel Casco Viejo, the former Club Union, as well as studies on vehicular access and waste management.

They are also concerned about encroaching high-rise towers that are being built towards the “east area” of the site

The Committee asks Panama to submit to the Unesco World Heritage Center before December 1 next year, a document detailing the progress in the subjects to be evaluated in 2019.

In addition, Panama, through the National Institute of Culture (INAC), must present by  February 1, 2018 the new proposed limits of the complex as Cinta Costera  3 damaged several of the initial values by which the Old Town was considered a world heritage.

Fernando Diaz, director of the Association of Neighbors and Friends of Casco , said that  construction projects that violate heritage norms, Waste and poor mobility are problems within the historic area that have not been able to be solved.

“If these issues are not resolved, as well as the new declaration that must be presented in 2018, Panama will get  a bad mark before the international community, despite isolated  efforts from various institutions,” the activist said.

Hildegard Vásquez, executive director of the Calicanto Foundation, said that the view expressed by Unesco is exactly what civil society has asked the government for years. “A plan of action is urgent and should include garbage, parking lots, zoning, incentives, afforestation and clearer rules on construction in the Casco with sanctions for  transgressors.

Basilica Santa Maria la Antigua

According to Vasquez, the National Directorate of Historic Heritage of INAC continues  only as an entity without power of management nor with the true technical capacity or seriousness to meet these challenges. Even this government administration opted to transfer the contract for the restoration of  the Basilica Santa Maria la Antigua, in San Felipe, to the Secretary of Goals of the Ministry of

Presidency, ahead of equipping INAC which is the governing body of this kind of works with equipment and more budget, “The state [and I do not mean parties] has always been an obstacle,” she told La Prensa.

INAC reported that it is preparing in conjunction with the International Monuments and Sites (Icomos), an advisory body of Unesco, the material for  the new report  that must be delivered in early 2018.

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